by Misa Dikengil Lindberg
Since December 2014 four new Japanese picture books in English translation have been released by the independent publisher Museyon Inc. Established in 2009 by the former president of Pokémon USA, Inc., Akira Chiba, Museyon began as a publisher of travel and art guidebooks, including such titles as Cool Japan: A Guide to Tokyo, Kyoto, Tohoku and Japanese Culture Past and Present by Sumiko Kajiyama. The company is based in New York and its books are distributed in North America. In December 2014, Museyon released its first Japanese picture book in English translation, Kuma-Kuma Chan, The Little Bear by Kazue Takahashi. This was soon followed in April 2015 by Timothy and Sarah: The Homemade Cake Contest by Midori Basho, a story of twin mice and a homemade cake contest held to raise money for turning an old, abandoned house into a community café, and Gon, The Little Fox by Niimi Nankichi and illustrated by Genjiro Mita, a classic of Japanese folklore in which a mischievous yet considerate fox attempts to atone for his thievery and ends up worsening his fate. Both titles were translated from Japanese by Mariko Shii Gharbi and edited by Richard Stull. In May Pakkun the Wolf and His Dinosaur Friends by Yasuko Kimura was released, which tells the story of a friendly little wolf who accidentally tumbles into an underground world of dinosaurs in search of his friend Mrs. Hen's lost egg. This title was translated by Aoi Taniguchi Roberts and also edited by Richard Stull. Publisher Akira Chiba and translator Mariko Shii Gharbi were kind enough to share their time with SCBWI Japan blog editor Misa Dikengil Lindberg and answer a few questions about how the translation and editing process unfolded and Museyon's plans for future publications.
For this new series of books, Chiba brought together a team of translators and Japanese and American editors to ensure that the translated text was smooth, culturally comprehensible, and accurate. In fact, on the books' copyright pages, Museyon credits both the translator and the English editor, Richard Stull. However, the published English text of Kuma-Kuma Chan, The Little Bear, the shortest text of the four, is an edited version of a translation Museyon received from Poplar Publishing, the original Japanese publisher.
Misa Lindberg: Niimi Nankichi's works are well known throughout Japan and upheld as classics of Japanese children's literature. Some even refer to him as the Hans Christian Andersen of Japan. Several of his books have already appeared in English translation, notably Buying Mittens (University of Hawai'i Press, 1999). I am so pleased to see a beautifully illustrated English translation of Gon kitsune now appearing in hardcover in the U.S. How were your current picture book titles chosen from the enormous selection of high-quality Japanese children's literature published each year?
Akira Chiba: Museyon began as a publisher of cultural guides, such as books on travel, art, film, and history. Japan has a rich picture book culture and I thought that by all means I want to introduce this culture to the United States, which has a similarly vibrant picture book culture, and so I published the first Japanese picture book in translation with Museyon. I chose four titles to start from the many Japanese picture books I would like to introduce. The titles were all published by Poplar, one of Japan's leading children's book publishers. Kuma-Kuma Chan has a simple story and is an exemplar of Japanese "cute." Timothy and Sarah and Pakkun the Wolf both feature anime-style illustrations and belong to the modern, Western style of picture books that are very popular.
Gon, the Little Fox is a Japanese folktale and features traditional Japanese illustrations. It is a story widely loved in Japan and is a standard selection for elementary school textbooks. It has been said that picture books containing moral lessons and lacking happy endings won't sell in the U.S., but given the school shootings, police shootings, and terrorist events currently confronting us, I decided to go for the challenge, hoping that children might learn to appreciate the importance of life, for what help that may be.
As this was Museyon's first involvement with picture books, the translators were not part of the selection process. However, as we continue to gain experience in picture book publishing, I think there will be opportunities for that and I always welcome suggestions.
ML: Mariko, can you explain your background as a translator and your connection to children's literature?
Mariko Shii Gharbi: I was born and raised in Japan and have lived in the U.S. for the past twenty years raising my child. I studied Japanese Literature in Japan and Business Administration in the U.S. I have been working as a freelance translator for clients that vary from a technological venture business to a non-profit philanthropic organization. The idea of translating children’s picture books came from Akira Chiba, whom I had previously worked with before he started Museyon. Picture books is a new genre for me. I had enjoyed writing stories in my childhood, and translating children's books now is fun work.
ML: Can you describe the translation process throughout these projects? How closely, if at all, did you work with the authors during the translation process?
MG: When I translate children's books, I first read the given materials and then do some research on the writers and the stories. I also try to learn how Japanese readers have received the authors and stories by reading online comments and reviews. Then I translate them into English on my own. Later an English native speaker will sit with me and we read the original books alongside my translations. We discuss how each sentence should sound in English to best convey the original intention. After that, I leave it up to the editorial team to produce the final version.
AC: For these texts, the translator and American editor had no direct communication with the authors. However, the final editorial reviews were done in Japan, so the Japanese editor was able to ensure that each author's intent was conveyed.
ML: Do you have any plans to expand beyond translations of picture books, into middle-grade or young-adult literature?
AC: Yes, I would like to work on publishing children's literature besides picture books in the near future.
ML: That's great news! And what about you, Mariko? Do you have plans to pursue other children's translations with Museyon? Has this project inspired you to pursue J-E children's literature translation with other publishers?
MG: Yes, I have already started working on a new title for Museyon from a very popular Japanese picture book author and illustrator, Tatsuya Miyanishi. It is from his tyrannosaurus series, which have collectively sold over 1.75 million copies in Japan to date. While perusing Japanese readers' comments on the Internet, I discovered that this story has touched the heart of a 3-year-old, who listened to his mother reading it to him in bed, and brought his mother to tears. It also moved an adult man who read it in a bookstore. The very same scene has made us each laugh and cry. I hope we at the Museyon team can bring this magical experience to readers in English also. I welcome more opportunities to work with children’s literature.
ML: It sounds like we can look forward to many more contributions to Japanese children's literature in translation from Museyon. Good luck to you both and thank you very much for your time.
Born in Kobe, Japan, Akira Chiba has lived in New York since 1986. After serving as the President of Pokémon USA, Inc., he moved into the publishing business and established Museyon Inc. in 2009. www.museyon.com
Mariko Shii Gharbi was born in Japan and has lived in the United States for over 20 years. She studied Japanese Literature in Japan and Business Administration in the U.S. She works as a freelance Japanese-English translator.
Misa Dikengil Lindberg is a freelance Japanese>English translator and editor. Her years working as a preschool and elementary teacher have given her an intense love of children's books. www.misalindberg.com